Zach Deputy just kicked off his national tour supporting his new album, Wash it in the Water, which include stops September 20th at the Music Farm in Charleston, SC, and September 22nd in Brooklyn, NY. We got the chance to catch up with the one man, looping band via phone and talk a variety of fun stuff from grueling schedules, crowd reactions, his thoughts on EDM music, and the story from going from band to solo act.
“One man band” has always had a negative connotation for me, and it stems from all those carnival videos of a guy with cymbals on the kneepads, a harmonica tied to his mouth, and a drumkit as a backpack walking down the street playing terrible music. It’s rare to see live music where one person is creating the same sound as that of all the members of the Parliament Funkadelic. Zach invigorates the one man band with a career of having mastered beatboxing, guitar, and incredible southern vocals. If Doug E. Fresh and BB King had a baby, Zach Deputy would be it. His four different microphones provide sounds for: choir, high-hat basic back-beats, his regular voice, and low beats. Different buttons change his guitar from acoustic to electric with all the different filters on that. And then add in his true blues voice, ten years experience with the equipment, and over 1000 shows the last four years, what’s left is a rocking concert and very polished songs.
Writers on the Storm: You’re in the midst of doing ten nights in a row coming up before your Charleston show, how are the last two nights in a run like that?
Zach Deputy: “You kind of go into auto-pilot. You’re like a race horse or something. It’s hard when you first start doing a grueling tour, but once you’re into it, you’re just rolling. You don’t realize how tired you are until you get home and sleep 14 hours straight.”
So, nights nine and ten, if the crowd is reacting kind of slow you just power through?
“Oh you know…the crowd won’t be slow!! (laughing). Even if there’s five people I’m going to make them move fast. I’m weird. I’m out to entertain myself. If they’re giving me energy then I’m going to take it and use it and make the show better with it, but if there’s no energy, then I’ll just go inside myself and entertain myself and find a way to make it fun. But it’s rare that I play a show and people aren’t going crazy.”
So, I came across an interview where as a kid, like all kids, you were shy and wait for your parents to leave and beatbox and sing Stevie Wonder. So, at what age did your parents realize they have this Matisyha / BB King love child?
“Well, my Dad figured out early on I could beatbox, and once he did that, he was my biggest supporter. He’d make me beatbox for everybody. I’d be like “C’mon Dad!” and he’d go, “No, do that thing with your mouth. Show them what you can do!” I was probably 11 or 10 when my Dad was first telling people “Listen what he can do with his mouth.” But I don’t think my Mom and Dad realized that I could sing like I could sing until I was 17 or so. And I was really shy about it and I didn’t start singing out at all until then. Once I started singing, it seemed like people would always ask me to sing. And so I would. I don’t think they really believed in it until I was in my 20s and was bringing in some money to help out with the bills.”
The looping thing is pretty rare. I only know of Reggie Watts and Keller Williams, who of course you’ve played with. How did that come about?
“It was by chance. I had this pedal called a D4 Line 6 pedal. One of my buddies, Brock Butler, he plays in P Group. He had this pedal, too. When I was just a kid he was looping back in Savannah, (GA), and I see them loop, and I never planned to loop, but I had the same pedal and one day my bass player couldn’t make a show last minute. I called my drummer and told him the show was off. I called the venue to tell them I couldn’t do the show. But when the owner answered, I just hung up the phone. I just said I’m going to go there and do this. This was a landline before Caller ID. So that’s how long ago that was. (laughing).
I saw Brock use the looper, so I said, “I can do that.” So, I went there. I remember people were freaking out. I didn’t think I was that good. I thought it was a very mediocre show. I was just trying to figure out the gear, but I said to myself, ‘Man, if they liked it this much, imagine if it was actually good.’ So, that kind of sparked my imagination, and I started doing that once a week. Then once a week turned into twice a week. And fast forward four years I was doing it full time.
“My shows I was doing my looping at I had huge crowds, but the nights with my band, we weren’t drawing flies. It’s literally the people that decided, so I went with it.”
So when you decide you want to cover a song like Shakedown Street or all the ones you do, how long does it take you to figure it out where it’s ready for a show?
“I don’t practice. I’ve never actually played the entire Shakedown Street. It’s literally as simple as whatever pops in my head. I usually don’t ever write set lists. If I’m playing a song live and I’m jamming and I hear Shakedown Street in my head, then I’ll do it. I don’t plan or think about it. I don’t even know if I’m doing it right. I like to play songs from memory more than transcribing them. I like to interpret instead of reflect. If I was a visual artist I’d be an abstract interpreter and not a realist. I wouldn’t draw it exactly like it looks. I’d draw it exactly like I remember and how it feels. After doing it literally over a decade, it comes off as well-rehearsed.”
I recently came across your new skill of shooting a bottle rocket out of your mouth. Is that something we can expect in live shows and include that screaming noise in your looping? (Unfortunately, I can’t find the YouTube video anymore)
“Yea, I could probably put that in the loop! Yea, that would make a good sound!”
What are your thoughts on the current state of EDM with someone that creates their own beats vs someone that hits play on CD?
“I’m a big supporter of live music. I’m really against anything that is live that isn’t actually live. That’s my take on it. To each their own. But if somebody’s doing something and they’re masquerading as if it’s live but it’s all a charade, the best I can give them is, “Wow, you’re a good producer.” or “You produce good music”…if it’s good. I’m not against all bad music. There’s some really awesome grooves and some great stuff. I enjoy the production value of it, but for a live musician, and the integrity of being a live musician, it’s again my live musician moral code.”
So Paris Hilton won’t be DJ’ing your next birthday?
“No. I have a sticker on the back of my box truck that says, “Drum machines have no soul.” But to each their own. I’m just a chef and I use the spices that I like. They’re a chef. They use the spices they like. If they have an audience then it justifies the means.”
So for EDM DJ’s, their spices are a microwave I guess.
What was the best gig you’ve ever played?
“Oh wow. This really random gig in Lake Murray, South Carolina. It was epic. I was playing on a boat and it started raining like cats and dogs, and you think the gig would be over because I was just in open air, but like 20-30 people put this tarp over me as it was raining. I continued to play for 30 minutes. On this boat where people were dancing on a sandbar. In the water dancing. Boats surrounding us. It was pouring like crazy and just made everyone dance more. It was just a ridiculous, epic experience and it was probably 10 years ago.”
And the worst one?
“I’ve played Birmingham, AL and it was just 4 people. It was horrible. It was four people and two of them were working. It was the lowest, littlest show we’ve ever done. And we stayed out of the market for two years because I didn’t want to play Birmingham for a very long time. So, we went back two years later and I was like, “There’s no way it can be as bad as it was the first time.” The next time we went back it was two people. (laughing). The worst show I ever had was two people. I played 30 minutes then hung out with those two people and gave them free merch. So, Birmingham has my worst show and second worst show.”
Thanks again to Zach. I highly recommend visiting his YouTube channel and website for more songs. His Jam in the Van videos are as good as it gets musically.